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A new take on Needham history

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By Laura Drinan
Hometown Weekly Reporter

While it’s impossible to change history, you may have noticed that the Needham History Center and Museum is making some adjustments. After erasing “Historical Society” from their name and replacing it with a more welcoming one several months ago, the Needham History Center and Museum has since been working on executing more of their ideas that will bring Needham History and the community together.

“One hundred and three years ago, in 1915, when the Historical Society was started, it really was sort of a Mayflower club; all of the incorporators were members of families that had been here for hundreds of years,” said executive director Gloria Greis.

“They donated family heirlooms, and so we have this beautiful core collection of very old Needham-related stuff, but that’s not a topic of interest that extends beyond them,” she said, laughing. “So the real challenge over the years has been how to engage people whose families haven’t been in Needham for three hundred years.”

First on their order of business was changing the name of the museum.

“‘Historical Society’ didn’t convey all of the things that we do now, and we wanted a name that was a little more modern, a little more dynamic,” said Greis. “And it was our hundredth anniversary, so it was a really good time to launch something like that, but we wanted something that was a little more indicative of the bigger range of the things we do.”

Besides housing many Needham-related artifacts – many belonging to their exhibit, “The History of Needham in 100 Objects” – the History Center and Museum cares for public documents, like family and business records, books and manuscripts, town reports, and a photo archive dating back to 1850.

They even host a monthly book group to promote reading historical fiction. In previous months, they have read “Hamilton,” “Jane Eyre,” and “Sisters In Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court.”

Soon, the History Center and Museum will be launching an online database, which they hope will be a valuable resource for school-aged children and adults researching Needham’s history.

“We’re looking for ways to reach families and families with kids,” said Greis, who has worked as the director since the early 2000s. “We have our school programs, but we wanted a bit more broadly.”

Recently, the History Center and Museum has launched a storytime at the schoolhouse for younger children, which will take place frequently throughout the year.

While the majority of the programs are free to the public, the History Center and Museum does host some events for their members and is currently working to create more benefits for them. Since the museum is dependent on donations, membership fees, and sponsors to operate everyday and host their wonderful programs at no cost, the History Center and Museum hopes their efforts will be met with support from the community.

The Needham History Center and Museum also belongs to the North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM), and a silver membership grants access to 950 museums across the nation. In Massachusetts, silver members can get free admission to museums like the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, the New Bedford Whaling Museum, and the Fuller Craft Museum.

For more information on the Needham History Center and Museum, their programs, and membership, visit them online at needhamhistory.org or stop in Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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